It turns out that 2014 may have been a unique year as it seems to have been the first on record where economic growth took place with no increase in carbon emissions.
I've read two articles on this phenomenon recently. One, by Kurt Cobb, in CASSE, casts some doubt on whether this actually happened, saying it's too soon to tell. He also brings in a number of different perspectives to the debate, mostly from a steady-state perspective. He also cites an article in Vox which has some nice graphics on all this.
The Economist had a parallel piece, quoting the IMF and the International Energy Agency [IEA]. Clearly, we should not read too much into these data, or get too euphoric, too soon. This is how the Economist ends its piece:
"The flattening of global emissions will not of itself make much difference to the climate. Though the quantity did not increase, people still threw a lot of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere last year. The standard measurement of atmospheric CO2 concentration, taken at the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii, has therefore barely flickered in its upward rise. Though it ebbs and flows on an annual cycle which matches the growth and dormancy of the great forests of the northern hemisphere, it passed 400 parts per million this January, the earliest in the year it has exceeded this benchmark. Even if emissions stay flat, the world remains on course towards a temperature rise of around 3°C by 2100, compared with pre-industrial levels. To keep the rise to 2°C (which most climate scientists think is needed) would require emissions to fall.
All the same, the IEA’s finding is remarkable. It happened without either a climate-change treaty or a global carbon price. And, by providing evidence emissions can actually be reined in, it might make the successful negotiation of a new climate treaty in Paris at the end of this year a bit more likely.
Fatih Birol, the IEA’s chief economist says,
“These numbers make me hopeful for Paris, full stop. But if nothing comes of those talks, the targets scientists set for us [a 2°C rise] may well be out of reach.”